Universities must go hybrid to stay relevant, says Coursera CEO

Universities urged to work alongside edtech companies and other online players to improve offering to students

四月 5, 2022
Man racing on an office chair to illustrate Universities must go hybrid to stay relevant, says Coursera CEO
Source: Getty

Students will soon expect to be able to get both a degree and a professional certificate from their university, according to the chief executive of one of the world’s largest edtech firms, who believes that the change will be the next major development in online learning.

Jeff Maggioncalda, who has run Coursera since 2017, said job-specific training courses for students, developed alongside top businesses, is the biggest growth area for his platform.

Although on-campus teaching is returning post-pandemic, Mr Maggioncalda predicted that online learning is here to stay – but it will be in offering short courses for career development where companies such as his can have the most impact initially.

“We’re really talking about two things,” he said, when asked about his predictions for the future of higher education. “How much of the traditional degree programme is going to be online versus on-campus, and then the curriculum – how much do you offer job-related training versus more general liberal arts education?

“I think both are going to be changing. For flexibility and convenience, students are going to say: ‘I’d rather have more choice over when and where I take my classes.’ And then on the curricula side, I think they are going to say: ‘I want to go to a place that gives me a blend of liberal arts and some job-specific stuff that will help me be more employable.’ Even if a university does all the stuff they’ve normally done on campus, [and none of it is] online, if they offer online microcredentials, [their students can] get the combination.”

Mr Maggioncalda predicts that elite universities that offer undergraduate residential programmes will be the most resistant to moving things online because they are selling a “whole lifestyle product”, much of which relies on everyone being in the same place.

But for the next tier of institution – operating in a crowded, competitive marketplace – he says their online offer can help them stand out and meet the expectations of students.

Through Coursera and other online learning platforms, universities have been able to buy in courses licensed from the likes of Harvard University and offer them to students for credit, without having to invest in building up a faculty of their own.

He said they are also seeing Coursera being used to supplement existing courses by offering digital elements to programmes that were traditionally taught solely face to face.

But it is the offer of short courses and professional certificates that helps graduates develop a “hybrid portfolio” that will assist universities in fending off competitors, according to Mr Maggioncalda.

He warned that institutions in Europe are making slower progress than those in the emerging markets of East Asia, Latin America and the Middle East – and some are starting to see enrolments going down as a result.

“During the pandemic there has been a lot of investment in edtech companies”, he said. “You’ve got bootcamps and microcredentials and Microverse. There are so many players now trying to compete for those students.

“A lot of lower-tiered and vocational schools are saying the students aren’t coming to my schools any more because they are doing this other stuff. We’re seeing another level of innovation and alternatives that we didn’t see before the pandemic, and part of the reason is there is so much capital flowing into edtechs.

“I think universities are like: ‘Whoa, we were the only game in town and now very rapidly there’s a lot of other games in town; how can I compete with them?’

“We’re trying to say we can help; it’s not that hard. Add in these professional certificates and you’ll be a long way toward matching what the other players are doing. You’re going to have to change your diet − the world is profoundly changing at a rate we’ve not seen before.”




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Reader's comments (2)

Universities should be places of education and not training. It seems that employers wish students and the public purse to pay for something that is their responsibility. Companies also have no obligation to maintain the provision. Some years ago, my university was left in the lurch by an employer meaning that we had to take on all the students and the company stopped its contribution. The timescales of true education are long compared to business activity in the modern world and thus there is a fundamental conflict of interests. The answer is to modify the system so that "university" means what it used to and other providers can offer something different.
Universities and colleges need to define their role/mission and focus on more specifically their mission. I believe we have too many institutions and mission creep has become a necessity to remain viable. We live in a time where more education and knowledge are needed for people to continue to grow professionally. There is plenty of need/demand to go around to higher ed, training companies, and internal corporate development units.